Why organisations are a bit like old engines…

Our organisations are a lot like engines. Engines have many, many components that all have to interact to make the engine work. In companies there are thousands of individuals who are all interacting in order to make the company succeed.

Internal combustion engines aren’t that efficient. They lose energy through heat, vibration and noise. And I think we can all recognise that in organisations – whether that’s inefficient processes, under-performance, low engagement, absence and so on.

Old school management would try to manage everyone like it’s an engine – standardised performance, shift patterns and so on.  Some operations still do that.  Strangely enough those kind of management practices lead to higher absence, higher turnover, higher error rates and so on. 

And the reason for that is because people aren’t like motor parts (you don’t need to be spark plug to realise that.  boom boom).  While every part in an engine is standard, factory produced, built to fit its role, the same just isn’t true of people.  Every single colleague is effectively hand-made by different craftspeople. They’ve got an uncertain history, they’re often put into roles they’re not made for, they’ve got an uncertain lifespan, and unpredictable performance.

To get the best out of this organisations need some real thought about how these parts can work together, how they are maintained, how they interact and how they are upgraded.

That’s where managers and leaders come in really isn’t it? Only managers are often as well equipped for this as I am for working in an F1 garage. For a lot of managers their answer is either: put a load of oil on it (money), whack it with a spanner (discipline, performance), or chuck the part out and get a new one (hiring).

Good people practice can significantly reduce the wasted energy in an organisation. Better managers can get their teams working well together, good organisational processes can reduce wasted effort, continuous learning and improvement can raise the performance of individuals and teams, and more attention to hiring and careers can sustain performance for much, much longer.  A little investment in the quality of management and the skills of managers can go a long, long way.  Like a well-maintained vintage car…







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